Students to Citizens: A Look at City Partnerships to Promote Civic Learning and Develop Engaged Citizens
August 8, 2023
Participation in civic life and an understanding of the role and impact of local government are essential to sustaining representative democracy in the United States. Nowhere is representative democracy more immediate and impactful than at the local level – where elected officials are members of the communities and neighborhoods they serve, accountable to their neighbors. Mayors’ actions, policies, and projects directly impact their neighbors in more consistent and diverse ways than their counterparts at both the state and federal levels. Thus, mayors can be powerful allies in establishing, supporting, maintaining, and expanding civic education in their cities. Focusing on and engaging children and youth in local government institutions and processes is one of the most impactful ways mayors can support the education children gain in the classroom.
Among the core principles of the Ohio Mayors Alliance are to collaborate, share best practices, and promote bipartisan, local solutions to statewide problems. Ohio mayors are leading the way in engaging children and youth in their cities in civic education activities—implementing, leading, and sharing civic education and leadership opportunities in their cities.
Cities of all sizes and types are stronger when residents are engaged in local action to establish and protect their neighborhoods and communities. As a bipartisan coalition of mayors, we are committed to working together to foster opportunities for diverse members of all communities to seek out and act on common interests. Civic learning needs access to civic functions and civic leaders to demonstrate how it works, and local governments are uniquely situated to provide that access and supplement classroom work with real-life demonstrations of how compromise and pragmatism work in a democracy.
The Ohio Mayors Alliance Education Advocacy Leadership Committee has spent the last year, working with partners at the Kettering Foundation, Learn to Earn Dayton, and the Institute for Citizens and Scholars, discussing how cities and schools can and do partner to support civic learning and help students understand the crucial role of informed citizens in a representative democracy. Earlier in 2023, the Committee challenged all OMA mayors to commit themselves to developing, continuing, and/or implementing at least one civic education program or initiative in their cities, with commitment and involvement from the mayor, city staff, and city departments. Led by committee co-chairs Mayor Peggy Lehner (Kettering, Ohio) and Mayor Frank Whitfield (Elyria, Ohio), the committee presents the following summary highlighting how some Ohio mayors are helping to develop, lead, and promote partnership opportunities to support civic learning.
We intend this summary to be representative, but not exhaustive, and we will update it as we learn about more of the ways Ohio cities are working to help students become committed, engaged citizens.
In August 2022, Mayor Frank Whitfield invited a 6 year old Elyria first grade student to join him as “Mayor for a Day.” The Kid Mayor attended meetings and traveled with the mayor during the day, learning about what the mayor does. The mayor intends to make this a regular event, repeating the success of the first Kid Mayor.
Parma: Leadership for Tomorrow Program
All Parma 4th graders have the opportunity to participate in an interactive local program started by Mayor Tim DeGeeter where students participate in a mock city council meeting, meet the mayor, and learn about what the executive and legislative branches of the city do. Children prepare for the trips at school by researching city issues and the roles of city officials.
Partners: City of Parma, Cox Communications, Parma City School District
Toledo: Kid Mayor and Kid Council Program
Thirteen 4th graders from Toledo Public Schools and Washington Local Schools meet quarterly for engaging and educational sessions. Trips include attending a City Council meeting, a tour of the City of Toledo Water Treatment Plant, meeting with Toledo Police and Toledo Fire Departments, and attending a Toledo Mud Hens Game. They also have the opportunity to attend additional meetings, ribbon cuttings and other public official events.
At the end of their term, the Kid Mayor and Kid Council present to Mayor Kapszukiewicz and Toledo City Council a policy or initiative they would like to see implemented on behalf of their constituents.
Partners: Mayor’s Office, Toledo Public Schools, Washington Local Schools, Human Relations Commission
Beavercreek: Youth Council and Youth Development Committee
Beavercreek Youth Council is a group of 6th through 12th graders who build leadership skills through community service. They organize and participate in a variety of community service projects throughout the year. Beavercreek Youth Development Committee oversees the BYC; youth members serve two year terms and meet monthly to develop leadership skills and plan events.
Partners: City of Beavercreek, Beavercreek City Schools, Beavercreek Township, Greene County Juvenile Court
Lakewood: Youth Council
Lakewood Youth Council provides City Council and the Mayor a youth perspective on issues that affect the City and the opportunity for youth to be active and participate in city government. The Youth Council reviews matters referred to it by City Council and the Mayor and makes recommendations on youth activities, interests, and concerns. Youth Council is comprised of 15 youth between 8th grade and their freshman year of college. Youth serve two year terms and meet quarterly.
Akron: Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council
Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council (MYLC) is a civic leadership initiative designed to educate Akron’s youth about their government, community organizations, and service-led projects. Area high school students have the opportunity tour city facilities and learn about how city government works, while learning about their city and becoming role models and mentors for younger students.
Received US Conference of Mayors DollarWise Innovative Financial Literacy Grant and Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague’s COMPASS Award.
Partners: Akron City Schools, other Summit County school districts
Cincinnati: Career Pathways Initiative
In 2022, Mayor Aftab Pureval announced Cincinnati’s “Career Pathways Initiative,” a collaboration between the city and local community and educational partners aimed at improving economic opportunities for young people in Cincinnati through three tracks:
- Youth to Work: expanding youth jobs (ages 14-17) across city departments and community partners.
- Connecting young adults (ages 18-24) to entry level employment with the city.
- Level Up, an earn as you learn entrepreneurship program.
Columbus: Youth Council
Through the Columbus Youth Council, high school juniors and seniors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in city government and learn how they can become stewards in their community. Students participate in sessions on city government structure, housing and development, and public safety.
Partner: Columbus City Schools
Cuyahoga Falls: Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council
The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council brings students together with the mayor to learn about their local government and community and provides opportunities for students to address issues that directly affect young people in the city. Students sit in City Council chambers with the mayor for discussions and are invited to attend City Council committee meetings as well.
Mayor Jeffrey Mims’ annual Dayton Teen Youth Summit welcomes nearly 300 sophomores and juniors from Dayton high schools, including 8 Dayton Public Schools high schools, Chaminade Julienne Catholic High School, and Dayton Early College Academy. Students engage with a variety of professionals and facilitators and focus on topics of importance to students such as mentorship, entrepreneurship, safety and juvenile justice, recreation, and mental health. The theme for each year addresses a key component of student leadership development to inform, inspire, and empower youth to navigate real-world issues and grow into future community leaders. The first annual teen summit event took place in October 2022.
Partners: City of Dayton, Dayton Public Schools, Sinclair Community College
Dayton: Get Out the Teen Vote Project
For the last decade, Dayton Mayor Jeffrey Mims and members of the Montgomery County Black Elected Officials have organized the Get Out the Teen Vote Project to instill the civic duty of voting in Dayton teens. Working with Dayton Public Schools, the program invites teens who are at least 18 years of age or will be by election day to register to vote during the school year and invites them to meet local candidates and participate in a march across Dayton’s West Third Street Bridge to vote for the first time during early voting. The march creates a festive and educational atmosphere. Lunch is included, and buses bring students to the meeting location and return them to school after lunch.
The program’s goals are to share with youth reasons why voting can impact them, their livelihood, and their community.
Fairfield: Mayor’s Youth Commission
The Mayor’s Youth Commission brings together a group of HS students to learn from city departments. The group of juniors and seniors form their own coalition with a president, vice president, and secretary. They learn how local government works, and get involved by having regular discussions with city department leaders.
Partners: City of Fairfield, Fairfield City School District
Strongsville: Youth Commission
The Strongsville Youth Commission is made up of high school students who try to help their community and world by learning about city government and engaging in local community-based projects.
At the beginning of each year, Youth Commission members meet and identify 5 issues they will focus on for the school year. They then meet regularly to attend trainings and develop projects.
Other purposes of the group are to integrate and connect young people into city programs and to recommend to the city programs that will serve the needs of youth in the community.
Civic Education Resources and Information
Kids Voting Ohio : Civics standards and curriculum for grades 3-12 along with middle and HS classroom community projects – Middle School Civility Project, High School Civic Action Project
Child Friendly Cities Initiative : The Child Friendly Cities Initiative is a UNICEF-led initiative that supports municipal governments in realizing the rights of children at the local level using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as its foundation.
Cities of Service (Johns Hopkins University) : Cities of Service helps mayors and city leaders tap into knowledge, creativity, and service of citizens to solve public problems and create vibrant cities.
Creating Partnerships for Effective Youth Civic Learning (National Civic Review, Vol. 111, No. 2 (Summer 2022) pp. 28-37)
Municipal-School Partnership Resources (Institute for Local Government – CA) : Draft Vision/Goals/Objectives for cities, schools, and community groups, sample MOUs between cities, school districts, and other partners.
“The government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.”
– Thomas Jefferson –